Max Chilton adjusting to life outside F1, embracing Indy Lights opportunity

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – Life has changed a fair bit for Max Chilton in the last few months.

The Englishman is, like his Carlin Racing teammate Ed Jones and team principal Trevor Carlin, fully embracing his new opportunity racing in North America.

Yes, his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires races this year are on a race-to-race basis, but the plan now is that the ex-Marussia Formula 1 driver will be continuing on for the balance of the season on non-conflicting weekends.

Initially, when Chilton first announced he’d be taking on the Nissan LMP1 program in the FIA World Endurance Championship, it didn’t appear as though he’d be able to do both.

Chilton has raced at Monaco several times previously, twice in F1 and before that in GP2.

While many have dubbed Long Beach “the Monaco of the U.S.,” Chilton wasn’t quite so quick to bestow the honor.

“Yeah it’s my first time here and first time to L.A. as well,” Chilton told MotorSportsTalk during Thursday’s media lunch activities ahead of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend.

“I have done the West Coast before, at Laguna, but never here. I have watched a couple of on-boards and done stuff on the sim. I’m not comparing it here to Monaco, but it’s definitely nice weather and a nice environment.”

Between testing work and the opening weekend in St. Petersburg, where Chilton had the pace but not the luck on race day (best finish of fourth in Sunday’s Round 2), he has adapted to the new Dallara IL15-Mazda Indy Lights car.

For a development car, he does think highly of it.

“Yeah it was a bit of a shock to the system initially,” Chilton said. “I’m used to turbos from F1 last year, but it initially was like going back to F3. Still when you know you have it dialed in, you know it’s a good car. I’m looking forward to more races.”

Chilton also spoke highly of racing in America for further opportunities this year. At the moment, he’s bouncing between the U.S. and the U.K. as his Nissan LMP1 commitments have now featured increased testing here in the U.S., at Bowling Green.

“Racing in the States is definitely different from the rest of the world,” Chilton said. “You’re slightly more relaxed. It’s good, fun racing. Everyone’s here because they love it.

“It’s a nice change coming out to race here.”

For now, Chilton is dovetailing the Indy Lights and Nissan roles, although he’s optimistic Carlin’s future IndyCar ambitions will play dividends for him racing in the series in 2016.

“This is another good focus because Trevor wants to get into IndyCar next year,” Chilton said. “There might be an opportunity there.”

You can watch Chilton and the rest of the Indy Lights field’s race from Long Beach at 3 p.m. ET, Sunday, on NBCSN.